Two Spooks, One Stone

Happy Wednesday and welcome to the third day of our Halloween countdown! Today’s post will cover both this week’s Woman in History Crush and the 13 Days of Halloween; the first bit will be the actual history, and the latter will follow with how it ties to the holiday. This week’s WCW is Queen Mary I of England, and our spooky subject is the legend of Bloody Mary.
Women in History Crush Wednesdays - Mary I of England

Mary Tudor was the daughter of Henry VIII of England and Catherine of Aragon, born on February 18th, 1516 in Greenwich, England. While Mary was recognized as the first child of Henry, she was declared illegitimate when Henry divorced Catherine on the grounds of incest. A quick refresher on King Henry VIII: he was the monarch who separated England from the Roman Catholic Church and into the Anglican Church mostly in order to divorce Catherine because she hadn’t borne him a male heir, and ended up marrying five other women but had only one male heir, Edward VI, to show for it. After being illegitimatized, Mary was made Princess of Whales as a formality, but Henry never intended for her to gain the thrown.

Mary resided at Ludlow Castle in Whales for most of her youth and young adult life. There, she was educated and excelled at singing and linguistics. As Henry’s wives came and passed and more daughters were added to the lineage, Mary grew angry at both her father and her half-sisters, most notably her first sister and eventual successor, Elizabeth I. With Henry spending most of his time in search of a male-rearing wife for himself, he didn’t devote much of his time to arranging a marriage for Mary. One or two were discussed, like the dropped proposal from Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, but Mary did not marry until 1554, when she wed Philip II of Spain.

Like her mother before her, Mary had problems with childbirth. She didn’t marry Philip until her late thirties when the period of safe birth had already passed, but this didn’t stop her from trying to have children, to no avail. Twice, Mary subconsciously willed herself into a false pregnancy, a pseudocyesis, and when it was announced to the people of England that no child existed, her humiliation and stress nearly killed her. Mary eventually gave up on trying to conceive, saying that her inability to reproduce was caused by her toleration of heretics.

Following Henry’s death in 1547, the only male heir was the son of Henry’s third wife Jane Seymour, Edward VI. He took the throne at the age of nine and ruled until he was fifteen, when he died from terminal illness. After his death, his mother seized control of the throne for nine days, until Mary, the rightful heir, gained control. Mary led a five year reign over Catholic England, gaining her nickname “Bloody Mary” when she persecuted Protestants. During the largest persecution that she ordered, some three hundred Protestants were captured and burned at the stake for their religious dissent of Catholicism. Other than the religious aspects of her reign and her overturning of the edict that declared her a bastard child, Mary did little to change or influence the English government or nation.

On November 17th, 1558, Mary died from either ovarian or uterine cancer, along with that year’s strain of influenza. Her half sister Elizabeth, who she had imprisoned due to suspicion of treason, succeeded her rule. Today, we only really remember Mary’s rule when discussing those of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Now to the legend. Due to television and movies, Bloody Mary has taken a more definite story line within the past century – a person looks into a mirror in a poorly lit room at night and repeats “bloody Mary” thrice, and a ghostly and extremely malicious woman, presumably a Mary, appears in the mirror or as an apparition and physically maims or kills the speaker. However, this isn’t how the legend has always been, and is definitely not how it began.

13 Days of Spooks: Two Spooks, One Stone

As far as I could find, the earliest records of mirror-based (not including a broken mirror) superstitions date back to the late eighteenth century. A commonly held belief was that if a young woman walked up to a mirror backwards, candle in hand, then turned and gazed into the mirror, the face of her future spouse would appear. But if she looked for too long, the devil or a demon would appear. The story altered as it was passed from generation to generation, until the common story of today began circulating at teenage parties in the late 1970’s. Youths attempted to summon the ghost of any woman killed in a malicious manor, generally who held some resemblance to the woman in the Spanish legend of La Llorona, by chanting either “bloody Mary,” “I believe in Mary Worth,” or “I stole/killed your baby, Mary.” This last one may sound unfamiliar; it relates back to Mary I’s pseudocyesis, as it aims to provoke the spirit by bringing up her failure to have a child. Regardless of what incantation is used, the basic outline of the story remains the same, making it one of the most popular urban legends.

To learn more about the scandalous life of Mary I of England, check out the English History, bio., and Tudor History sites, and for more about Bloody Mary, go to this About or Wikipedia page. I’ll also informally cite my European History class (thanks again, Coach Patterson!) for my understanding of the Tudor family, as we recently discussed their lineage.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays and the 13 Days of Halloween countdown!

Be heard!

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The Spook That Counts

🎶On the second day of Spook-mas, a haunting gave to meeee a taboo number in western countingggg🎶

Man, I wish Halloween carols were a thing, but that’s beside the point. The second day of 13 Days of Spooks covers one of the most feared numbers in western civilizations, the number thirteen. For this post I’m generally referring more to superstition surrounding the number, but real fear, specifically when discussing dates (i.e. Friday the 13th), is a real thing called paraskevidekatriaphobia.

To understand the mystery of the number thirteen, it’s important to understand the role of the number twelve. In the mathematics and sciences of early civilizations twelve was considered the perfect number – it fits into endless descriptive categories and shapes, there are twelve months, twelve hour days and twelve hour nights, and so on. The number is prominent in religion too, with twelve Olympians in Greek and Roman mythology, twelve sons of Odin in Norse mythology, twelve Imams of Muhammad in Islam, twelve petals in the Anahata Chakra in Hinduism, twelve apostles and the twelve days of Christmas in Christianity, and the celebration of bat mitzvah at age twelve in Judaism. Twelve, for some unexplained reason, basically holds tremendous universal power.

So what makes thirteen spooky? Because twelve was so perfect and thirteen immediately followed, it was somewhat viewed as wicked, a catalyst of the perfection. Religion again played a role in creating importance for the number; in the ancient Persian civilization, followers of Zoroastrianism observed Sizdah Be-dar, which fell on the thirteenth day of the Iranian year, as a day when evil’s presence was at its’ strongest, and at the Last Supper in Christianity, Judas Iscariot was the thirteenth guest at the table and ultimately betrayed Jesus. Astrologically, early monks believed a year with thirteen full moons instead of the more common twelve indicated bad luck, as the additional moon threw off the planning of religious festivals.

13 Days of Spooks: The Spook That Counts

Superstition of the number isn’t isolated to ancient and early civilizations, however. In many European and North American hotels, floor numbering skips from twelve to fourteen, and gates at some airports follow suit, to avoid the existence and sequential bad luck of a thirteenth number. Also, numerous movies have been made related to the thirteenth day of events and Friday the 13th, generally in the genre of horror, so some people naturally assume it holds scary characteristics. Some people even go as far as to take days off work when Friday the 13th’s occur.

Thirteen isn’t all bad though. In the ancient Aztec culture, the numbers seven and thirteen were actually considered mathematically perfect like twelve, to which most of the civilization’s ruins can attest. Thirteen is also lucky in Chinese culture, where bad luck is instead attributed to the number four. How you feel about the significance of thirteen and other numbers is directly related to your cultural origins, and for now, thirteen remains a spooky number in America.

Thanks so much for reading! You can find more about the history of thirteen on History Channel and Wikipedia. Tomorrow we’ll continue with our 13 Days of Spooks, and, as tomorrow is a Wednesday, a Woman in History Crush post is in store, so stick around!

13 Days of Spooks

As you may have noticed, it is the month of October or as I like to call it, the month of spooks. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I thought it would be fun to learn more about the history of some of the traditional aspects of the holiday. Thus, this is day one of the 13 Days of Spooks, a countdown to the 31st. Today’s spooky topic: All Hallows Eve and the origins of Halloween.

Beginning in the first century, the Celts lived in present-day Ireland and northern France, and celebrated their new year on the first of November. Called Samhain (pronounced sow-een), the festival marked the end of summer, a time of harvest and rounding up of livestock, and the beginning of winter. Additionally, as it was an observance of the coming of a new year, the festival was held to honor the lives of those who had died within the year.  The belief was that during Samhain, ghosts and other supernatural beings were allowed to mingle with the living before their journey to eternal rest; people sought to appease the spirits with sacrifices of animals and crops to Celtic deities, and lit bonfires to guide ghosts to the land of the dead.

13 Days of Spooks: All Hallows Eve and the Origins of Halloween

Around 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had seized control of most Celtic territories, and over the course of its’ half century reign mixed Roman traditions with those of the Celts. The Romans observed two fall celebrations: Feralia, an October commemoration of the dead, and Pomona, an early November harvest festival honoring the goddess of the same name. Aspects of these festivals, including bobbing for apples, were added into Samhain’s repertoire of activities, which influence how we celebrate today.

It was during the mid sixth and seventh centuries that Samhain experienced drastic change. Early Christian missionaries, appalled by the pagan holiday, were instructed by Pope Gregory I in 601 to consecrate traditional worship ceremonies in the name of Christ, instead of completely doing away with native celebrations. Following this order, missionaries taught that the supernatural creatures of Celtic lore, specifically fairies and ghosts, were demonic and were sent to earth directly by the devil, and that catering to them would result in an eternity in Christian Hell. This change in perspective gave the holiday the sort of creepy air that we enjoy today.

Then in 609, Pope Boniface IV declared All Martyrs Day in March to honor Christian martyrs, which later Pope Gregor III moved to November 1st and renamed All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day. The church also added the November 2nd observance of All Souls Day in the year 1000 in a further attempt to completely replace Samhain with a church-sanctioned celebration of the dead. So by the eleventh century, two Catholic holidays were meant to end Samhain –  instead of letting the tradition die, Celtic people celebrated All Hallows Eve, which perfectly coincided with the customary beginning of Samhain. Over time, All Hallows Eve became Hallows Eve, then Halloe’en, and finally Halloween.

More information about the origin of my favorite holiday can be found on the History Channel and American Folk Life Center websites. Tomorrow will follow with day two of our Halloween countdown, check it out if you dare.